Virginia sets targets for 100% clean energy


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Photo from Piqsels

Tyler Chalfant | March 24th, 2020

Earlier this month, Virginia became the first southern state to set a target for 100 percent clean energy. The Virginia Clean Economy Act requires the state’s two largest investor-owned utility companies to produce exclusively carbon-free electricity by 2050. 

Utility companies will also be required to reduce overall energy demand in the next five years, increasing energy efficiency and cutting back on costs for consumers. In a further effort to protect low-income consumers, the law creates the Percent of Income Payment Program, capping the amount consumers pay for electricity based on income.

Through the state’s new renewable portfolio standard, the utility companies must also increase their energy storage capacity, build offshore wind turbines, and inform their customers on how to save money through solar power. The cap on net metering will be raised from one to six percent.

The bill also instructs state agencies to develop a carbon cap-and-trade program, and for the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program that most northeastern states have joined. Advocates for the new law say that Virginians will reap $69.7 billion in net benefits, and see up to 13,000 new jobs per year in the state.

Three ways to stay calm, go green while spending time at home


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Microgreens are an easy, sustainable foray into indoors home gardening (via flickr).

Julia Poska | March 23, 2020

Over the last several weeks, people everywhere–including Iowa–have been increasingly encouraged or ordered to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Below are three ways to keep caring for Mother Nature while you care for yourself and your community during these unprecedented times.

1. No paper towels? No worries

With mass panic-buying wiping store shelves clean in recent weeks and non-essential excursions strongly discouraged, some households may worry about fulfilling their regular demand for paper products.

While disposable paper towels are great for the messiest of messes, consider using reusable cloths and rags are a more eco-friendly option for household cleaning.

2. No need for bottled water

While stocking up on bottled water might be tempting, there is no reason to believe the pandemic will impact household tap water. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a statement encouraging Iowans to continue using tap water as much as they can.

3. Grow your own microgreens

Doing some indoor home gardening will not only keep you busy, but create a hyper-local produce supply you don’t have to venture to the store for. Growing microgreens –seedlings of edible plants– is among the easiest ways to get started.

Spread potting soil in a shallow tray (consider reusing packaging from a container of berries or salad mix) sprinkle a layer of seeds on top and cover with a very thin layer of soil. Kept in a sunny spot and sprayed with water to keep the soil damp, you can yield a microgreen crop every two weeks or so.

Sunflower, sweet pea and radish seeds (available online) are great options for getting started. The seedlings take on the flavor of the mature fruit or vegetable, making a great salad base or addition to other dishes. Get creative!

 

COVID-19 outbreak impacts U.S. biofuel industry


Photo by photolibrarian, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | March 20th, 2020

As the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak has cut down on Americans’ travel, many transportation industries, including producers of biofuels, are hurting. Earlier this week, the airline industry asked for over $50 billion in assistance from the federal government. 

As fuel demand has fallen, many U.S. ethanol plants have lowered fuel production or idled entirely. Renewable Fuels Association Chief Executive Geoff Cooper called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant small refineries waivers from the nation’s biofuel mandates. 

The industry employs about 350,000 workers at roughly 200 plants across the country, which produce just over 1 million barrels of ethanol per day. 44 of those plants are in Iowa, which leads the nation in ethanol production, creating nearly 30% of the nation’s ethanol. Margins on ethanol refining in the Corn Belt fell to as low as -11 cents on the gallon earlier in March, and had risen to 10 cents on the gallon as of Thursday, March 19th.

Some ethanol producers have tried to shift focus. Hand sanitizer, which has recently seen a surge in demand, can be made using ethanol.

New report outlines goals to reduce transportation emissions


Photo by Jeff Turner, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | March 19th, 2020

The Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group released a report last month outlining goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in the U.S.

The groups call transportation “climate enemy number one,” in the U.S., given that the transportation system produces more emissions than any other sector of the U.S. economy, and accounts for 4% of global emissions on its own. Nearly three-fifths of those emissions come from light-duty vehicles, such as cars, pickups, and SUVs. 

Americans drive more than 3.2 trillion miles each year in vehicles that are bigger and less efficient than those of most other countries. Factors encouraging Americans to drive so much include:

  • Direct and indirect subsidies on fuel and transportation
  • A lack of access to public transit
  • Infrastructure that is dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Land-use patterns including low density and single-use zoning that separate homes from workplaces

The report outlined three goals to reduce transportation emissions over the next 10-15 years:

  • Phasing out fossil fuel-powered light-duty vehicle sales by 2035
  • Electrifying transit and school buses by 2030
  • Double the number of people who walk, bike and take transit by 2030

Communities around the country have already implemented local strategies and policies to make low-carbon transportation options safer, more convenient, and more affordable.

Second Warmest Winter on Record


Image from NOAA

Maxwell Bernstein | March 18, 2020

Global land and ocean surface temperatures for December through February in the Northern Hemisphere were the 2nd warmest in 141 years according to NOAA’s Global Climate Report, making this Earth’s 2nd warmest winter on record.

Global land and ocean temperatures for the winter of 2019-2020 were 2.02°F warmer than the 20th century average temperature, while December through February of 2015-2016 were 2.12°F warmer than the 20thcentury average temperature. The 2015-2016 winter temperatures were raised by a periodic El Niño boost which the 2019-2020 winter lacked. 

NOAA also released their National Climate Reports for December, January, and February of 2020, making this the 6th warmest winter on record in the United States. 

Some notable statistics included December of 2019 being the 2nd wettest year on record for the United States, with 4.48 inches of precipitation more than the average. This was also the 5th warmest January for the United States with temperatures being 5.4°F warmer than the 20th century average.

The warm winter coincides with 2019 being Earth’s 2nd hottest year in the 140-year records. The global temperatures of 2019 were .07°F less than 2016’s record temperatures. These record temperatures are attributed to the release of heat trapping greenhouse gasses from human-induced climate change

Flood sensor updates to help protect Iowans this spring


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The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System shows the location of flood sensors throughout the state.

Julia Poska | March 17, 2020

Two major updates to Iowa’s network of flood sensors will help protect citizens and property this spring, when projections predict the state will see major flooding.

The Iowa Flood Center recently received $150,000 from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, according to KCRG.  The IFC also received $30,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The network’s service provider is phasing-out the previously used technology, according to KCRG, so the funding will provide new modems and data plans to keep the sensors running.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has also installed five new flood sensors along the Iowa-Nebraska state boundary, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Areas in both states along the Missouri River were devastated by floods last spring. With elevated flood risk forecast for this year, the sensors could help Iowa and Nebraska officials coordinate disaster response.

Mining company makes second proposal to export water from Iowa


Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Tony Webster

Tyler Chalfant | March 16th, 2020

In a letter last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asked a mining company for “specific information” about where it plans to send 34 million gallons of water from the Jordan aquifer. Pattison Sand Company, located near Clayton, Iowa, is working with the Oregon-based company Water Train to export the water from two wells on its property to drought-stricken Western States. 

This proposal is the company’s second attempt to export water, after the state said it intended to deny its first proposal back in February, saying that sending such a large amount of water out of the state would have “a negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources.”

The company’s current permit allows it to draw 1.6 billion gallons annually from the aquifer, which is a source of water for 500,000 Iowans and considered stressed in some parts of the state. According to the state, Pattison would have to apply for a new permit for this use of the water, as well as providing more specific details about the intended use.